Spontaneous Poetics – (Philip Lamantia – 2)

The Collected Poems of Philip Lamantia – edited by Garrett Caples, Andrew Joron & Nancy Joyce Peters (with a foreward by Lawrence Ferlinghetti) forthcoming from the University of California Press, this summer

AG: I want to read you one or two other short poems of his [Philip Lamantia‘s]

Student: What was that (last) one?


AG: That’s called There is this distance between me and what I see” (on page 60 of Selected Poems by Philip Lamantia, City Lights, published in (19)67 – they’re his main poems up to 1966, and I put it in the Naropa library, with notes in the book as to which poems to check out, if you want to read a little anthology of Lamantia). I think for nervous recording of immediate, fast, nervous movements of mind, he’s one of the most interesting of the modern poets (also, for basic archetypal self-thought, thoughts that almost everybody has, but haven’t quite expressed – (and he) came out of the drug culture too -) Sharp [Allen reads next (on the opposite page) Philip Lamantia’s I have given fair warning – “I have given fair warning/Chicago New York Los Angeles have gone down/I have gone to Swan City where the ghost of Maldoror may still/roam/The south is very civilized/I have eaten rhinoceros tail/It is the last night among crocodiles/Albion opens his fist in a palm grove/I shall watch speckled jewel grow on the back of warsplit horses/Exultation rides by/A poppy the size of the sun in my skull/I have given fair warning/at the time of corpses and clouds I can make love here as/anywhere”

Short lines and long lines. Each with the same impulse. Each with a relatively balanced… each one, a sort of impulse. A high state of excitement, high tension, rare among poets, generally (particularly among the poetry I’ve been teaching here, that begins with a much more quotidian base and much more muted level, much more rounded). Here, it’s totally up in the air (although he’s obviously playful and conscious, humorous, in what he’s doing – “I have eaten rhinoceros tail/It is the last night among crocodiles” (actually, he just took some mushrooms!) – “A poppy the size of the sun in my skull” – (and) I like the last line – “at the time of corpses and clouds” – “at the time of corpses and clouds” (that’s out of (Arthur) Rimbaud – “voici le temps des Assassins” (now is the time of (the) assassins)) – “at the time of corpses and clouds I can make love here as/anywhere” – (A) true apocalyptic poem.

(Next), a little poem called “High” – “O beato solitude! where have I flown to?/stars overturn the walls of my music/as flights of birds, they go by, the spirits/opened below the lark of plenty/ovens of neant overflow the docks of Veracruz/This much is time/summer coils the soft suck at night/lone unseen eagles crash thru mud/I am worn like an old sack by the celestial bum/I’m dropping my eyes where all the trees turn on fire!/I’m mad to go to you, Solitude – who will carry me there?/I’m wedged in this collision of planets/Tough!/I’m ONGED!/I’m the trumpet of King David/the sinister elevator tore itself limb by limb./ You can not close/you can not open/you break yr head/you make bloody bread!” – It’s totally funny, totally “Ong”! (“Ong” is, I think, a word that was current in the late (19)50’s, early (19)60’s for being high) – Like (Jack) Kerouac‘s description of peyote in Visions of Cody – “peyote grooking in the desert” – “The peyote cactus grooking in the desert, under the sun” [the precise quote, referenced by Allen in his Visions of The Great Rememberer, is “Cactus with his big lizard hide and poison hole buttons with wild hair, grooking in the desert to eat our hearts alive, ack…”

A couple of other interesting poems by him (Lamantia). One called “Blue Grace” (These are totally opposite in tone and grounding, as I keep saying, from everything else I’ve been reading, from what I’ve been reading as good examples for good boys and girls to write. All of which means I was only proposing those good examples as some sort of standard to refer to so that you don’t get freaked-out in the poetry, but, if you’re going to freak-out, then freak-out interestingly! – and your freak-out will be more interesting if you have some ground to begin with. In other words, I wasn’t actually preaching coming down totally, but I was just saying at least be able to do that. Since everybody is so much up in the air, and so inartistically, it seems the only way to begin is to get back down to William Carlos Williams, Imagism, nothing happening, birds chirping on the telephone wires, at least have some kind of a mental clarity so that what you do when you freak-out has humor and spaciousness and playfulness, and is understandable as freak-out, rather than as an entire world where you’re expecting everybody to enter, taking it seriously (unless you really are serious, and suicidal, wherein you can say your poem is grounded in reality and a death-machine screech – which (Artaudian seriousness) we’ll get to). [Allen proceeds to read (in its entirety) Philip Lamantia’s “Blue Grace” – “BLUE GRACE/ crashes thru air/where Lady LSD hangs up all the floors of life for the last time/Blue Grace leans on white slime/Blue Grace weaves in and out of Luneburg and “My Burial Vault”/unudlates/from first hour peyote turnon..”…”Man,/the marvel/of masturbation arts/intersects Blue Grace/at World’s Finale Orgasm Electro-Physic Apocalypse!/ I sing the beauty of bodily touch/with my muse, Blue Grace” – It’s a funny ending – Spring 1963 – That is, I think, one of the late great poems. There’s a lot in Lamantia, if you don’t know him. That is.. weird.. (a) total “kundalini somersault”. Yeah?

Student: Allen, he was writing (this) when…?AG: He was hanging around San Francisco, mostly, with John Wieners, occasionally , and with Michael McClure, and Robert LaVigne, a painter. “Blue Grace” was a poem he read to Robert LaVigne, the painter (who used to be Peter Orlovsky’s friend), and LaVigne painted a huge painting of “Blue Grace”, with shades coming out of white automobiles on the streets of San Francisco – (an image of) a sort of an Angel, dressed in a blue suit and with dark shades – ((a) very heroin-ique image, heroin-ique image)

Student: Allen

AG: Yes?

Student: Is he still alive?

AG: [1976] – Yes. He’s in San Francisco. He’s editing Arsenal magazine [with Franklin Rosemont] and writing specifically Surrealistic poems. I saw him about two months ago, and spent an afternoon listening to him getting his theory down, suggesting that he come out and teach here [Naropa] but he said, “No, we’re Surrealists we’re not Buddhists”. (I tried to) lure him out of his… he lives on Telegraph Hill in a little apartment and his family is Italian from San Francisco. So he’s (from) an old born-in-San-Francisco native family.

Student: Has his style changed?

AG: Yes. This time he was more.. sort of.. well, he describes it here – that funny phrase in “Blue Grace” (which) would be “World’s Finale Orgasm Electro-Physic Apocalypse!” – (that was the prophesy of the ‘Sixties – it was a ‘Sixties-ish Electronic Acid Planet News) – He’s now, I think, probably, a little more dissociated, because he’s zeroed in – he’s left quasi-politics or neurological politics and he has now zeroed in – on a precise area ( he says it’s precise) of his consciousness, whence comes certain images which have absolutely no rational usability. He wants a poetry that will not have commerce with the world, where the words are associated magically, and each image contradicts the other image, where the mind doesn’t get a chance to solidify logical formations (or even sensory consistencies!). So the Surrealist method there is almost the opposite of everything (that) I’ve been teaching.

I feel a little more difficulty now with his poetry, in understanding it (because it’s not meant to be “understood”). And (But) I would still recommend checking it out, the later developments.

But.. continuing with his early poems, when he was thirteen (fourteen, fifteen), called “Revelations of a Surreal Youth“, up to recent.. well, (19)65, “Voice of Earth Mediums” [Allen proceeds to read (in its entirety) Philip Lamantia’s “Voice of Earth Mediums” – “We are truly fed up/with mental machines of peace and war/nuclear monoxide brains, cancerous computers/motors sucking our hearts of blood/that once sang the choruses of natural birds!/We’ve had enough dynamos and derricks/thud-thud-thudding valves and pulleys/of the Devil Mankin’s invention…”…”if the complete crowd-manacled Machine/ isn’t dissolved back into the Earth/from where its elements were stolen/we shall call on/the Great Ocean Wave/Neter of waters/and the King of Atlantis & his snake spirits/otherwise known as/Orcus/Dagon & Drack!/to send up calamitous tidal waves/- a thousand feet high if need be -/to bury all the monster metal cities/and their billion bullioned wheels of chemical death!’..”Oh, William Blake!/thou can oversee, if it please thee,/this lesson of Aquarius Clean Sweep/that Earth’s beautiful spirit of purifying Ocean/shall stop these weights on and plunder of/her metal blood and very thin skin/to teach us Terra’s song of taoist harmonies!”

Well, let’s see if you can do it (actually, you can do it, anybody can do it, if you want to do it that way – and it’s done that way already, it’s already happened – but it’s (admittedly) pretty interesting, and prophetic of later development in national consciousness). He was calling these curses and exorcisms and prophecies out in the early (19)60’s and so was a really brilliant poet. (Actually, some of (Michael) McClure, in a sense, is watered-down Lamantia, some of McClure’s biological analysis of civilization – Lamantia, without that nervous intelligence and discounting.. discounting insistence.. tantrums, tantrums – these are like tantrums.

That was called “Voice of Earth Mediums”. And there’s one called “What Is Not Strange?” which ends “Go Away & Be Born No More!/ DO A KUNDALINI SOMERSAULT!”, and which is set on the page very weird. It’s zig-zag, a whole series of different lines, all zig-zagged on the page.

(Audio for this section may be heard here from approximately thirteen-and-a-quarter minutes in to approximately twenty-eight-and-a-quarter minutes in – here)

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